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Love is in the air–and so is the aroma of these adorable slice-and-bake heart sugar cookies!
Last weekend, about 20 of us squished into my tiny apartment to eat dinner and bake Valentine’s Day cookies together. Since we needed a lot of dough (but had very little to spare from our wallets), I nipped over to 99 Cents Only to pick up flour, sugar, and all that jazz that I needed that night for our baking/dinner party! They have my favorite name brands at student-friendly prices, so shopping there really is a one-stop shop kind of deal for lucky me
While I was there, though, I also found these super cute V-day cards (for under a dollar! Whoo!) and just couldn’t resist snatching up a few for my friends. Guess you never know what you’ll find when you shop at the 99, eh? I’ll be writing them next week, so if you’re lucky one might just be headed your way soon!
The best part of this whole experience–shopping at the 99, making messy heart shapes out of red cookie dough and wrapping them in even more sugar cookie dough, and eating merrily at my place–was just spending time with some of my favorite people in the world. Best of all, since these dough logs needed to be chilled overnight before baking, we had an impromptu picnic the following Wednesday to enjoy the fruits (or hearts) of our labor!
So as you can see, this V-Day I have tons to celebrate: friends, cookies, and just about everything I need at unbeatable prices for a day filled with love. Wishing all of you the very same! (Hint: making these adorable cookies for loved ones are a great start–learn how to make your own in the recipe below!)
Happy new year! Can I interest you in this creamy caramel flan?
While others are making big resolutions for 2017, I’ve been happily whiling away my hours in my fuzziest pair of snowflake pajamas and scarfing down the last of the shortbread cookies that I bought from Scotland. And making flan, apparently. I guess my resolution is to undo all of my hard fitness work from last year completely (for various reasons, I also haven’t been to the gym in a month). Hooray!
Just kidding. While I’m not a big fan of making lists based on Earth’s revolution around the sun, I do love the idea of new beginnings. So my five biggest goals this year are: to graduate with my PhD (!!!), travel like a crazy boss after I do, get a spanking awesome job that makes me happy (but hopefully also pays the bill), publish something, and give this blog an awesome facelift. Oh, and do something completely outside of my comfort zone that I have never, ever ever imagined doing before. So I guess that makes six!
Since every set of New Year’s resolutions deserves to be commemorated with amazing food–you know, to keep you fueled and focused!–I’m sharing my favorite caramel flan recipe of all time with you. It’s dense, creamy, and rich: think a cross between traditional flan and a really bomb cheesecake. Plus that glossy caramel coating on top is to die for (and super easy to make)!
All you’ll need for this recipe are six ingredients: sugar, cream cheese, eggs, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and vanilla. Beat them together (except the sugar, which you’ll be melting to create that caramel), and you’re just a few hours away from your resolution of ETERNAL FLAN-INSPIRED HAPPINESS! Muahahaha.
Because if that’s not on your to-do list this year, we really need to talk about your priorities.… Read more
If you secretly make trips to Red Lobster just so you can stuff your with their famous, melt-in-your-mouth buttery Cheddar Bay Biscuits, here’s some good news for the new year: now you can make (and enjoy) them in your own home! (Recipe here.)
9. Slutty Cheesecake Bars
A thick layer of chocolate chip blondie, rich cheesecake on top, and whole Oreos crammed all throughout give these infamous bars their name. One of the very first recipes that I posted on Wallflour Girl (note the tacky rainbow wrapping paper backdrop) and still one of the most popular after five years! (Recipe here.)
8. Extra-Fudgy Kahlua Brownies with Kahlua Icing
I’m not a booze kind of girl…usually. But put a plate of these extremely fudgy Kahlua brownies (and maybe a White Russian!) in front of me and they’ll be gone before you can say “boozy.” (Recipe here.)
7. The Very BEST Tiramisu (from America’s Test Kitchen)
My shortlist for best recipe sources is, well, short–but I would trust America’s Test Kitchen with my first-born baby. This simple but authentic tiramisu recipe is the best that I’ve ever made and constantly requested at family functions! (Recipe here.)
6. Idiot-Proof Healthy Chocolate Chip Bars
Here’s an idiot-proof recipe that you can hand off to even the most baking-illiterate of your friends! These one-bowl, dump-and-stir chocolate chip oat bars are healthy, too, making them perfect for kicking off a brand new year. (Recipe here.)
5. Hawaiian Chantilly Layer Cheesecake Cake
This recipe holds a special place in my heart: inspired by one late-night, post-movie dinner conversation at Lenny’s Deli, my ex shared his fond memories of a dessert known as Chantilly cake.… Read more
So remember how last week I wouldn’t shut up about this Vanilla Souffle Custard Cake (a.k.a. “Magic Cake”) that I made, and then some of you tried making it right away and it was a total hit?
This week I made the chocolate version (AGAIN–yes, this is a repeat recipe, it’s that friggin’ good) and nobody else who tried it will shut up about it, either. So really, I’m just the messenger here, and all chocolate lovers in your life will thank you for it. Cue the Chocolate Souffle Custard Cake choirs!
For those of you who are wondering why this recipe is called “Chocolate Magic Cake,” let me sum it up for you: one simple batter -> pan -> magic happens in oven -> three-layered dessert. Cake on the bottom, creamy chocolate custard in the middle, and a pillowy chocolate souffle on top! If that isn’t science magic, I really don’t know what is.
This Chocolate Magic Cake, which I also adapted from the wonderful Jo Cooks, holds a particularly dear spot in my recipe file. The first time I made it, I shared it at a friend’s farewell party before she left the States and headed home for Spain. The second time was this past weekend, when a huge group of us gathered for a Friendsgiving party filled with dance battles, a wooden table groaning under dessert dishes, and one very boozed-up Mannequin challenge. And now I’m making it for our Thanksgiving family dinner, alongside the original Magic Cake that will forevermore remain in my top 10 favorite desserts.
What makes each of these experiences so beautiful for me (besides the obvious fact that they involve a chocolate dessert!) are the incredibly mixed feelings of love that I associate with them. I miss the old days when I would bake the same recipe over and over again because it was a significant other’s or close friend’s favorite dessert ever, but sharing this single cake with so many amazing people in my life recently has been a whole new kind of blessing: it has been a reminder to me that as we grow older, we continue to love in new and even bigger ways than we ever imagined possible when we were young.… Read more
There are no “foodies” in Italy–there’s simply food. As I quickly learned during my week-long stay in Putignano, food is a way of life, not simply a packaged bar of high fructose corn syrup that you snatch while dashing out the door for work. While food has always been a central part of my Chinese family and culture–think lazy Susan’s groaning under the weight of 15 or 20 dishes, chopstick wars over the last piece of fried tofu, literal battles between relatives over who is going to pay the bill–being in Italy felt like landing on an entirely different food planet altogether: one made of family friends, 10 o’clock dinners, and lots–I mean LOTS–of cheese.
Aside from enjoying homemade meals with Alessio’s family, I was invited to taste (quite literally) a whole sampling platter of Italian dining experiences throughout the week. One of my favorite meals happened on my second night in Putignano, when we drove over to the countryside home of one of their family friends for a pizza party. No, not a pizza party of 90’s Chuck E. Cheese glory–we’re talking 2 kilos of homemade pizza dough, dozens of fresh meats and vegetables, authentic brick oven right on the patio, the whole shebang. Better yet, we went through something like six courses (a crust “test run,” individual pizzas, dessert pizza with Nutella, gelato, fruit, and cake), so that by the end of the night I thought my stomach was going to burst straight through the too-snug button on my jeans. Seated along a long table that seated all 15 or 16 of us, everyone seemed content to sit and eat and chat as the early evening faded into evening proper, then late night. The pace of Italian life during the summer offers an incredible contrast to the hustle & bustle of American day-to-day, and as someone who spends half of her solo meals typing away at the computer, it was amazing to be granted this glimpse into a truly mindful culture of eating.… Read more
I can’t talk about my time in Ireland without talking about Guinness. I might as well have eaten at a Michelin-star seafood restaurant and told you all about the bread basket.
According to the friend I was visiting in Cork, there are two things you cannot visit Ireland without trying: the chocolate, and the stout. Now, I was all for the chocolate (obviously), but Guinness? Beer? Stout? Hops? Imperial pints in the UK/Ireland are huge and I had never drunk so much as a can of beer before visiting Europe (the taste of beer reminds me of that nasty Chinese herbal medicine we used to drink as kids), so I felt a bit nervous about what I’d do when faced with a whole glass of that dark, intimidating liquid. All the same, I certainly hadn’t come halfway across the world to sip on sparkling water–so when Alex proposed that we go out for a couple of rounds at the local pubs, I was ready to give Guinness my best shot.
Verdict: Turns out, I am actually a fan of the well-poured Guinness! Alex explained the process to me while we waited for our bartender to finish pouring,* then we found seats outside and enjoyed the live music wafting through the town streets while we sipped on glasses that were nearly overflowing with creamy white head. We later met up with a group of his school and university friends, who were probably the friendliest folks in the northern hemisphere and made me feel absolutely welcome. Of course, the second pint of Guinness probably helped! Best of all, Alex and I got home the first night at 1 AM, poured ourselves some cereal with milk, and watched Louis Theroux documentaries into the wee hours of the morning before we were too tired to stay up any longer.… Read more
Of all the places I visited in Europe, my favorite place by far was Edinburgh, Scotland. A buzz of excitement radiated through the city, palpable from the moment our 2-hour train from York pulled into the old station. We had timed our visit to coincide with The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the world’s largest art festival where thousands of artists converge every year to perform, sing, dance, make you laugh, make you cry. During our five days in the city, my sides split with laughing at the sketch troupe Daphne’s Second Show, a Cambridge trio that wove together hard-hitting humor with physical comedy, seamlessly transitioned sketches, and surprisingly impressive three-part harmonies. My heartstrings wavered and melted at I Love You Because, a loosely Pride-and-Prejudice-based modern musical about two couples who learn to love another not in spite of their flaws, but because of them. On our last night there, my heart both broke and mended at Liam Williams’ Travesty, a stunningly executed, intimate play about two people who learn to navigate the murky path through love, relationships, expectations, and commitment.
Art, like food, has always resonated with me differently at different times in my life. While I’ve shared some of the best moments from my vacation in the UK so far, not all of the trip went smoothly. I arrived in England to a welcoming household, and a partner who felt strangely distant; as the days went on, the sense of disconnect and aloofness only intensified, especially when I saw how warm and animated he could be with his family and friends from school. By the time we reached Cambridge on our fifth night together, I was crying on the bench outside a banquet afterparty while trying to book a last-minute room at the London Travelodge (we didn’t have anywhere convenient to stay the next night) and wondering what on Earth I was doing in England at all.… Read more
For the first time ever, I celebrated my birthday a few weeks ago in a foreign country. I was feeling a bit nervous because I was far away from home, family, and friends–I had arrived in London only two days before, and both days had been packed with touristy (and wonderful!) but tiring activities, including a day-early birthday surprise of 4 o’clock tea-and-champagne time. Thankfully, I had given up any claims to local trip planning already and was more than happy to go along with the plan for the next day, which involved a visit to nearby Leeds Castle in Kent and a very British plan to picnic on the rolling green lawns under the rare English sun. As it turns out, the California sunshine followed me to all but two days (both spent in Edinburgh) of my visit to the UK and Ireland, so I wasn’t complaining!
One of the things I loved most about my visit to Europe is the pace of life there. We spent that entire day in sun-kissed bliss, strolling around the castle and meandering around the rolling green lawns and doing nothing in particular. It was such an unexpected change from the usual hubbub of invitations and surprise parties and planned outings that I couldn’t help but feel glad that I had decided to book an early August flight to the UK, despite all of my earlier reservations about spending my birthday abroad.
Another lovely surprise that I hadn’t anticipated was the homemade Victoria Sponge Cakethat arrived on the patio table after dinner that evening! A candle was already lit on top–I made a wish and blew it out, opened a card, and felt that little wriggle of happiness in my chest that only a really pleasant and unexpected surprise can inspire. By that time, the birthday wishes from back home were also flooding my way through social media and my (thankfully unlimited) international texting, and we spent the rest of the night in the forest-lined backyard, watching shooting stars from the Perseid Meteor Shower light up the starry black night sky.… Read more
In England, where I started my 3-week Europe trip, I was stunned by the sheer variety of food that I encountered. Okay, so maybe the fish-‘n-chips and beer British stereotype I had always entertained wasn’t exactly a fair one–though they do like their beer–but I wasn’t ready for the amount of GOOD STUFF I inhaled during my 6 days around Kent, London, Oxford, Cambridge, and York. From tea time scones & jam to gratins and savory pies, there simply was no shortage of perfect nibbles to fuel our packed daily schedules.
By far my favorite eateries to visit were the pastry and bread shops. There’s something infinitely comforting about the smell of freshly baked goods wafting in the air as you peruse shelves with strange, quaintly British names like “Bakewell Tart” and “Eton Mess” scribbled underneath them. Even familiar-looking desserts had unfamiliar names: biscuits for shortbreads, knickerbocker glory for a particular type of ice cream sundae, and puddings for desserts in general.
Though I didn’t encounter this particular dessert in the UK until we arrived in Edinburgh after our England tour, the Millionaire’s Shortbread–or what most online recipes would just call Millionaire Bar–was one of those known-yet-unknown foods that I felt I was meeting for the first time halfway across the world. We were at the Edinburgh Castle whiskey gift shop, where we had just finished sampling two extremely disappointing creme-flavored whiskeys, when I spotted these little gems sitting on a white tray next to the castle-themed hip flasks: just a scant layer of caramel sandwiched between an even scantier layer of chocolate on top and a hefty, THICK slab of shortbread on the bottom. The caramel and chocolate looked thinner than the woefully optimistic sundresses and cardigans that I had brought with me to the freezing, wet city.
The boy (who, by the way, is originally from England) came over and laughed when I expressed my surprise at these Frankensteinian versions.… Read more
It’s crazy how much you take for granted until you’re the one standing in front of the classroom–that, and the amount of baking that you end up doing for your students in any given school term because you genuinely love them and want them to be happy human beings, even if they sometimes ask you questions whose answers are on the syllabus and expect responses when they email you 5 hours before a paper is due. I guess it’s good practice for the 40-kid family I plan on having someday.
Facetiousness aside, though, I owe a lot to the teachers in my life who pulled me through my brighter years and supported me through my tougher ones. Two in particular stand out to me: the first is my high school English Lit AP teacher, who was a total tough cookie and set us a timed essay on our first day of class after having us write multiple essays throughout the summer on 1984, My Name is Asher Lev, Typical American, and (I think) something broadly Shakespearean. He had a reputation in the school for being something of a hardass, but I never received anything but fair judgment and respectable guidance from him. Granted, I was a pretty strong writer already in senior year and didn’t struggle nearly as much as my peers did in that class, but I also knew it was because I worked my butt off that year to put out my very best work for this teacher. And in a way, that year was the year when I first learned what it’s like to fall deeply, irrevocably in love with literature.
The second is a very special lady whom I admire to the stars and back. Katharine taught my children’s lit seminar at university during my junior year, and I was lucky enough to spend that quarter with her exploring New York City in Stuart Little, strolling through the rolling cityscapes and hills of the Rootabaga Stories, laughing and crying over the images in American-Born Chinese and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. … Read more